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Trump’s Aberdeenshire adversary lifts lid on battles with billionaire president as he steps down after 23 years on council

Martin Ford is bowing out after 23 years as a councillor.
Martin Ford is bowing out after 23 years as a councillor.

Martin Ford quotes Gandhi, but his name will be forever linked to a world leader some may consider the peace activist’s opposite.

By knocking back Donald Trump’s plans for a £1 billion north-east golf resort, the eco warrior found himself in the centre of a media storm.

The saga, in 2007, led to him being “publicly lynched” by colleagues adamant that the scheme would bring untold riches to the region.

And it made him Trump’s number one enemy in Scotland.

Now, after deciding to draw his 23 years as an Aberdeenshire councillor to a close, he meets us to discuss his years at the heart of local democracy.

Martin Ford in Inverurie town cente.

The Scottish Greens representative was inspired to get into public life to fight climate change in the late 1980s.

At the time, global warming wasn’t something most politicians had heard of.

Martin has seen the world wake up to that reality in recent years.

And the 62-year-old has been involved with various local efforts to offset Aberdeenshire’s carbon footprint, such as the new railway station at Kintore.

But naturally, the conversation often comes back to Martin’s unique cross to bear…

Tangle with Trump came to define Martin Ford’s council career

In his role as chairman of the council’s infrastructure services committee, he used his casting vote to quash Trump International’s bid to create the Menie estate in 2007.

In the ensuing whirlwind, he was unceremoniously booted from his position and ostracised by fellow councillors.

It was a decision sensationally overturned by the Scottish Government and led to what Martin calls the “desecration” of the dunes at the Foveran site.

His name remains synonymous with the saga.

The Fintray resident is associated so closely with the former US President that he is regularly interviewed by global media outlets about him.

Even all these years later, it’s with a sense of disbelief that the cardigan-clad environmentalist views his relationship with the bolshy billionaire.

Donald Trump on a visit to the Menie Estate before his golf resort was built.

“Well, it was not my choice,” he reflects over a cappuccino.

“If you had asked me what are the chances of you having an impact on the life of New York billionaire Donald Trump, and of him having an influence on my life… I would have said zero.

“Our values don’t match, we live in different countries, work in different fields and have absolutely nothing in common.

“There would have been about as much chance of it as rolling double sixes 350 times in a row.

“But we did roll 350 double sixes, it was wholly unexpected but that’s the way it turned out.”

Trump an ’embarrassment’ to Aberdeenshire

Their unlikely connection even led to a telephone call at the Menie dunes, a flustered Trump demanding an assistant give Martin his handset when he visited the site as part of an inquiry.

Martin trekking through the dunes during the inquiry process.

The East Garioch councillor keeps his word, given to his adversary at the time, and won’t reveal the substance of the chat.

But he leaves little room for doubt when it comes to his views on the tycoon.

“I know the man,” he sighs.

“And I wasn’t surprised by how he behaved at losing the election because I had seen it all play out here before.

“Those in favour thought he would bring a reputational boost to the north-east.

“They believed other investments would follow because other people would be excited by Mr Trump.

“I find it difficult to imagine why anybody would want to be associated with someone whose reputation is for misogyny, racism, incitement of violence and environmental vandalism.

“I think it’s an embarrassment.”

Martin Ford came under the spotlight in late 2007.

‘Spineless, unprincipled cowards…’

In his own words, he was “lynched by the mob” when his fellow councillors voted to oust him as infrastructure committee chairman in the wake of the Menie decision.

He refers to those who turned on him, some of whom after also voting against the Trump proposal, as “spineless, unprincipled cowards”.

In the aftermath of his downfall, Martin received both hate mail and letters of support.

It was during these dark times that one envelope arrived with a message he has taken to heart.

He said: “At the height of it, someone sent me a card with a Gandhi quote on it.

“It said: ‘The only tyrant I accept in this world is the still voice within’.

“It means that what really matters is that you listen to your conscience, and that’s what I did.

“And that would be my message for anyone standing for the council next month.”

On the outs: Martin was ostracised by colleagues for refusing the Trump plans.

Climate change concerns sparked interest in politics

Martin was brought up in Exeter and studied botany at Newcastle University before completing a doctorate in Swansea in 1986.

He moved to Aberdeenshire when he got a job at the North of Scotland College of Agriculture (now Scotland’s Rural College).

All this may sound like an unlikely path into politics…

But when we ask what made him want to get involved, he fires back with a question of his own.

Martin asks: “What’s the most important issue facing the planet today?”

Climate change?

Marin nods, adding: “And that’s why we need more scientists in politics.

“We can do all the rest but if we screw up the planet, then the rest is irrelevant.

“In the late 1980s I was sat in the university tea room discussing climate change and nobody in politics was even mentioning it.

“I crossed the line, there came a point at which sitting at home wringing my hands about Mrs Thatcher wasn’t enough.

“So I became a foot soldier and started going out leafleting in all weathers.

“I was trying to do something about these issues that were being ignored.

“We were already in big trouble, but elections didn’t turn on climate change.”

Martin Ford while working as a botanist at the agricultural college.

‘I have no regrets whatsoever’

It’s that same “moral imperative” that Martin has lived his political career by.

But given all that he went through, does he ever regret taking the stand that he did against Donald Trump?

“I look at it the other way,” Martin tells us.

“And I have no regrets whatsoever.

“The basis for the Scottish Government approval was the promise of 6,000 jobs and this enormous golf resort – which does not exist.

“We got the worst of all possible worlds, losing the site of special scientific interest in the dunes and we haven’t got the supposed economic benefits.

“Let’s suppose I had gone in thinking ‘my God, I’m for the chop if I don’t support this’.

“I would have regretted it for the rest of my life.

“I would have betrayed myself and my values, and the people of Aberdeenshire most importantly.

“Really, I would have regretted it every hour of every day for the rest of my life.”

Martin Ford at Woodhill House in 2007.

As part of our investigation into the Trump saga last year, councillor Paul Johnston had some theories on why there was a vendetta against Martin following the vote.

Partly, he suggested, it was because he “didn’t wear a suit” and simply “wasn’t “one of them”.

‘I’m slightly unconventional…’

Does Martin, currently a member of the council’s Democratic Independent and Green group, see himself as an odd fit for the world of politics?

“I don’t see politics as some kind of separate thing. Politics is life,” he says.

“You can’t be an independent, active citizen without some level of interest. And these are decisions that affect everybody’s life.

“I was a person who was studying the natural world. I thought it was important, I thought it was amazing.

“I’m slightly unconventional but I don’t have views that are out of the mainstream.

“My personal choices in life, like using a bike to go to meetings and using public transport, recycling and having solar panels at the house are just me living the best way that I can.”

Martin Ford left the Trump Golf Resort Public Inquiry at the AECC on his bike while Donald Trump drove away in his Mercedes 4×4.

Why is Martin Ford bowing out?

Martin was 39 when he was elected, and is stepping down to spend more time with his family.

He jokes that he is “that rare politician” who can truthfully say that, rather than trotting out the phrase after being “caught out doing something terrible”.

He adds: “But my wife recently retired, and it’s a joint decision we made.

“It’s been the largest part of my working life and I will miss it. But I think it’s the right thing for us.”

However, he’s not quite ready to take it easy just yet, telling us there’s “plenty more on his bucket list”.

Martin Ford with his wife Gina Ford at the AECC during the 2012 council elections.

What has changed during Martin Ford’s time in the council?

If a week is a long time in politics, then 23 years is an eternity.

And some of the biggest changes during Martin’s time reflect the very reason he decided to “cross that line”.

Whether it be new cycle paths being formed across the north-east, growing calls for more rail links to cut fuel emissions or the energy transition, climate change dominates the agenda.

And environmental issues dominate the manifestos of parties as they head into next month’s vote.

Martin adds: “It’s now so much more alarming, and we know we have less time to fix it.

“You can’t escape the issue, and I know in Aberdeenshire we are doing as much as we can.”

Now as he cycles off into the sunset, an unlikely enemy and countless memories the richer, he at least knows the threat to the planet can no longer be ignored.